One of the talks in the Microsoft booth at NECC that I attended was Jacqueline Russell explaining Popfly. One of the things that hit me was when she said the goal behind what her group was doing was to turn “consumers into creators.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot since then. I have come to the conclusion that turning consumers into  creators should be a basic goal of education.

Now one of the knocks on industry when they try to get involved in education is that all “they” want is mindless consumers and rote workers who don’t think much. But honestly I think those days, if they existed at all, are fast disappearing. Maybe the early days of the industrial revolution with narrow focused assembly lines could get along with workers who didn’t think but today’s information economy can’t afford that sort of worker at all. I recommend a recent blog post by Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP at Google who tells students to “Major in Learning.” [Hat tip to Vicki Davis who pointed me there]

Those are not rote memorization and mindless consumer thinking that Google is looking for. Frankly I’ve never worked for a company that looked for things much different than Google is looking for. In fact the list that Jonathan gives is very much like the list I give students who ask me what Microsoft looks for in new hires. Which brings me back to creating creators.

Vicki Davis asked in her blog “What does Major in Learning look like?” To me it is about creating things. Oh sure anyone can memorize data but that is not, to me anyway, real learning and it certainly does not look like majoring in learning. Most people learn best by doing – by actually creating some result, by putting knowledge to work. When I try to learn new things in computer science, be it a programming language, an API, or a development tool I find that reading about it only goes so far. To really learn it I need a project. Best of all is if that project solves a need (need is loosely defined :-) ) that I have. Only by  creating do I really internalize the data/information/learning. I need to be a creator – to create something – in order to really learn.

I think that the “pundit on the platform” style of teaching only goes so far because it all too often doesn’t fit people’s learning styles. Learning is the key thing. We, society, business, industry, need creators. We need people who will go ahead and solve problems with new discoveries, new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking. Training tomorrows (heck, TODAY’s creators) has to start in school. We can’t afford to beat the creativity out of students but rather we need to help them create even more. And more creatively!